No one would ever question that you absolutely need a umpire mask or helmet when umpiring behind the plate at any level. But what about in the field? The talk about base helmets for umpires began after base coaches started being required to wear them a few seasons ago. Would umpires be next?
The need for a formal survey to gauge interest in a base helmet for umpires would be unnecessary. I already know the overwhelming majority of umpires would say emphatically that it is not necessary and/or they would never wear one unless mandated.
And in general, I am not disagreeing with them.
However, are there some cases where some individuals might choose to wear a hard shell cap (helmet) rather than a soft shell cap?
I think, yes! Umpires should be afforded an option in choosing which is right for them. Indeed, we have received several requests from customers who would prefer to wear a helmet on the bases. Many people? No. But a few, and I think that is enough.
So, under what circumstances would an umpire be justified in wearing a helmet on the bases? There are two reasons very clear to me.
1) When Umpires Have to Stand Closer to Home Plate
The conventional thought is that as an umpire standing behind 1st base or 3rd base that you are so far away from the action, farther away than base coaches, that there is plenty of time to move out of the way from a batted ball (runaway or broken bat, too). True (if judged properly).
But what about in a 2-man or 3-man system when you have to move in closer with runners on base? I've seen several umpires get hit in this more vulnerable position that is roughly the same distance away from home plate as base coaches. Although I don't want to stress this too much, is it not also true that some umpires are more or less able to get out of the way than others, especially in this position? Just something I'd like for you and more umpires to think more about.
What about if you are a softball umpire, especially one for men's slow pitch where balls scream off bats? In this situation, if you are one, you are going to be much closer to home plate than in baseball, especially in the position described above, about two-thirds the distance, leading to much less reaction time.
A softball umpire died 2 years ago after being hit in the head by a line drive in this position. (I have lost the link, but I recall it occurred somewhere in the New England area). Initially he seemed okay but after a severe headache, his head started to swell. He was rushed to the hospital where he died a few hours later.
Would he have been saved by wearing a hard shell helmet? I can't say for sure. Should he have at least had an option to have one? Yes, absolutely.
2) For Medical Reasons
John Olerud, former MLB baseball player, was known for both his abilities and for wearing a helmet while playing first base. He chose to wear one instead of a traditional cap as a precaution due to a prior brain aneurysm. (source: Wikipedia).
Are there umpires who have had previous head injuries who also would prefer to possess this precaution through a hard shell cap? I think so.
I want to make it clear that I am not advocating that all umpires wear a hard shell coach's helmet on the bases, nor I am spearheading any cause to make it mandatory at any level. Instead, I'd like to provide umpires with the option of choosing either a soft headpiece or a hard one for whatever reason they may have in doing so.
In addition, by providing this helmet as a purchase option and discussing it as I have in this blog post, I hope to generate an even a greater amount of discussion regarding safety for umpires both behind the plate as well those in the field.
So go ahead. Share your thoughts. I'd love to hear them.
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